No one wants to run away. Deep inside we want to be brave and stand strong. Yet so often our knees begin to tremble and our resolve crumbles when we’re put to the test.
Take heart, because Jesus knows we can’t always stay strong and firm. He knows we’ll fall away, take alternate paths through life, and make bad decisions; but he also knows he’ll be right there waiting for us to return! Today we’re going to look at a moment from the Last Supper when Jesus begins to explain this to the disciples, particularly to Peter, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times that very night.
Let’s start by looking at the passage in Matthew:
[callout]Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:31-34 NIV)[/callout]
Below is this scene from The Book of Matthew movie (first 3 minutes of this clip):
[youtube id=”ojD7sg11i-g” height=”353″ width=”574″ marginbottom=”15″]
We will all fall away
As Jesus is giving the disciples some final instruction and teaching at the Last Supper, he tells them they will all fall away from him that very night. Then he says Peter will disown him three times before morning. The disciples were probably overwhelmed already with all Jesus had been telling them about what was coming next, but this prediction had to be the last straw. They had given up everything to follow Jesus and now Jesus said they’d fall away.
We often focus on Peter in this passage, but look at the first verse. Jesus says they will ALL fall away. None of us are exempt.
None of us are strong enough to never question, never waver, never wander, never run away.
I don’t know about you, but that gives me a lot of hope! Hope that God expects us to mess up and has a plan how to use those experiences for good when we return.
Satan wants to sift us as wheat
We don’t fall away just because we are weak, but because there are bigger forces of evil in the world trying to pull us away. Look at this same passage in Luke:
[callout]“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked me to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NIV)[/callout]
Jesus explains Satan wants to sift the disciples as wheat. Satan is the one who will be putting the disciples to the test and trying to pull them away from Jesus.
Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith to stay strong enough to resist this sifting – and he prays for us too! We will go through some turbulence in the sifting. It may be a difficult road ahead, but know you are prayed for through it all.
Check out this video of women threshing and sifting wheat by hand and imagine yourself as one of the wheat being sifted by Satan. We’re up against a powerful force who wants to knock us down.
[youtube id=”rSmXOSW9iOk” height=”353″ width=”574″ marginbottom=”15″]
Jesus will be waiting for us, not IF, but WHEN we turn back
One of my favorite verses in this passage is Matthew 26:32 – “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Even after Jesus explains how they will all fall away, how Peter will disown Jesus three times, how Satan will try to sift them as wheat, he then explains that he’ll be waiting for them in Galilee.
He’ll go ahead of them and be waiting! Jesus doesn’t turn away from the disciples, even though the disciples turn away from Jesus.
Jesus fully expects us to turn back. In Luke 22:32, Jesus says “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Not IF you turn back, but WHEN!
We are to use our experience to strengthen each other
The last point is that God will redeem whatever we’ve experienced in our wandering. No matter where we go or how long we’re there, He can still use us for good when we return.
In that same verse in Luke 22:32, Jesus instructs Peter to strengthen his brothers when he turns back. Peter is to use his experience and have empathy and compassion to build back up this community of disciples.
John’s account of this same passage shares this additional instruction from Jesus on how the disciples are to live in community – even after they all fall away and come back.
[callout]“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)[/callout]
They are not to shun each other or tear each other down because of their failures and detours. Instead they are to love each other and, by this love, reflect Christ to the rest of the world.
We’re looking this week and next at the default response of running away when change comes into our lives. If you see yourself in any of these forms of running away, take heart! Jesus knows we’ll run away, knows we won’t always stay strong, knows we won’t always choose the right path. He prays for us to stay strong as the forces of evil in this world try to knock us down and he prays for us to return. He wants us to eventually return to community with each other and use those experiences to strengthen each other and encourage others to turn back, too.
Read all four accounts of this conversation for yourself: Matthew 26:31-35, Mark 14:27-31, Luke 22:31-34, and John 13:31-38
Reflect on the questions below:
1) What does this passage tell you about Jesus?
2) How does this passage speak to you?
3) Where in your life do you need to turn back? How can you use your wandering to support and encourage others?
If you want to dig deeper into the life and lessons of Peter, I highly recommend two books:
“A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter”, by Michael Card and “The Fisherman: A Novel”, by Larry Huntsperger
[callout]This post is part of the “A Better Change” series. For more information on this series and to find related posts, click here: A Better Change Series – Overview[/callout]